In the past five games, Kobe Bryant has averaged 54 points per game. Think about that for a moment. Fifty four! Most importantly, the Los Angeles Lakers won all five, reversing a seven-game losing streak that had threatened to ruin their season.
In effect, Bryant placed the entire team on his shoulders and willed it back into a positive state. The Lakers are now confident again, they have Luke Walton and Lamar Odom back from injuries and they're no longer looking like road kill for the West's top seeds come playoff time. And they owe it all to Kobe.
His offensive game is so good, so fundamentally sound in every aspect, that it may be time to debate whether or not he's the most complete offensive player in the history of the NBA. I'm not talking about the best player – there are plenty of players who rank well ahead of Bryant in that category. I'm simply wondering if there has ever been a player with a more complete skill set with footwork, ball handling, perimeter shooting and leaping ability.
I'll look forward to your emails on that one.
In the meantime, Kobe has brought his team back into the NBA spotlight, and he's helped L.A. climb back to the brink of Yahoo! Sports' top 10. Here are the latest rankings (records and statistics are through March 25):
2. Phoenix Suns (52-17, Last ranking: 2) – The Suns are looking over their shoulder at the Spurs, hoping to hold them off for the No. 2 seed and home-court advantage should the clubs meet in the second round of the playoffs.
3. San Antonio Spurs (49-20, Last ranking: 3) – After consecutive losses to Milwaukee and Boston, the Spurs got down to business and ran off three wins in a row last week.
4. Houston Rockets (44-26, Last ranking: 5) – The Rockets are locked into the fifth seed and will almost surely play Utah in the first round of the playoffs. Home court in that series may depend on two head-to-head matchups in April.
5. Detroit Pistons (44-25, Last ranking: 4) – With two starters missing and Chris Webber mired in a 1-for-8 outing, the Pistons' bench came up big in Sunday's rout of Milwaukee. Detroit's depth has really improved, with guys like Jason Maxiell, Carlos Delfino and Ronald Murray making big contributions.
7. Cleveland Cavaliers (42-28, Last ranking: 6) – A week after I anoint the Cavaliers as title contenders, they lose three of four games. Maybe I spoke too soon.
8. Chicago Bulls (41-30, Last ranking: 9) – Looks like the NBA could have another playoff seeding controversy. If the Bulls end up with the third-best record in the conference after Detroit and Cleveland, they're still going to be locked into the fifth seed. Why? Because the winners of the Southeast and Atlantic Divisions are guaranteed top-four seeds.
9. Toronto Raptors (38-31, Last ranking: 12) – Barring a complete collapse, the Raptors are going to win the Atlantic Division and secure a top-four seed in the East. Not bad for a team that wasn't supposed to even make the playoffs.
10. Denver Nuggets (35-33, Last ranking: 11) – Nine of Denver's last 14 games are on the road. Good thing the Nuggets have been pretty good away from the Pepsi Center; their win in Cleveland on Sunday got them to the .500 mark on the road.
11. Los Angeles Lakers (38-32, Last ranking: 13) – After four straight games of 50 or more points, Kobe was way off against the Warriors on Sunday. He settled for 43 as L.A. won its fifth straight game.
12. Miami Heat (37-32, Last ranking: 8) – The Heat have lost three of four games and have averaged just 82 points in that span.
13. Washington Wizards (37-31, Last ranking: 10) – After closing out its western swing on Monday in Utah, the Wizards' schedule gets much easier down the stretch. They're trying desperately to hold off the Heat for the Southeast Division title.
15. Golden State Warriors (33-38, Last ranking: 14) – If the Warriors are going to make it to the postseason, they'll have to earn it. A brutal schedule includes San Antonio, Phoenix, Dallas and Utah.
16. New Orleans Hornets (32-38, Last ranking: 19) – The Hornets' 3-1 week included a 12-point win over the Rockets.
17. Orlando Magic (32-38, Last ranking: 18) – The Magic won a huge game over the Nets on Friday by holding New Jersey to 35-percent shooting. Orlando is in pretty good shape to capture a playoff spot, especially if its defense holds up.
18. New Jersey Nets (32-38, Last ranking: 15) – Big game for the Nets against Indiana on Wednesday. A win would go a long way towards securing a playoff spot.
19. New York Knicks (30-39, Last ranking: 17) – The Knicks' playoff hopes are flickering after an 0-3 week.
20. Philadelphia 76ers (28-42, Last ranking: 21) – The Sixers' win in Miami was their 10th in 14 outings. Their play of late has helped save the jobs of Maurice Cheeks and Billy King.
22. Minnesota Timberwolves (30-39, Last ranking: 23) – The Wolves have to give the Clippers their first-round draft pick, unless it is in the top 10, as part of the Marko Jaric trade. It's going to be close.
25. Milwaukee Bucks (25-43, Last ranking: 24) – Andrew Bogut and Charlie Villanueva will miss the rest of the season with injuries. In the end, it might not be the worst thing. The Bucks are going to end up with a very high draft pick.
26. Charlotte Bobcats (26-45, Last ranking: 28) – Whoever takes over this team next year will inherit some good talent and a team that competes. The Bobcats are young, but they're going to get a lot better in the near future.
29. Boston Celtics (20-49, Last ranking: 29) – Finally. Something for Doc Rivers to cheer about: He watches from the stands as his son Jeremiah helps lead Georgetown to the Final Four.
30. Memphis Grizzlies (17-53, Last ranking: 30) – Twelve more games, guys. Just 12 more.
- Corey Maggette